brucekluger.com

    USA Today, December 28, 2005

    Alter window on our world
    From TV to pop culture, negativity is the name of the game. It's a game that
    my girls need not play

    By Bruce Kluger


    And now for a confession: I officially believe
    in Creation. Not the Biblical concept. The
    band.

    Formed two years ago by six New York City
    fifth-graders hooked on the high of
    expressing themselves through song,
    Creation quickly grew past the garage-racket
    phase, ultimately deciding that they needed
    more of a message to their music. They soon
    found one, courtesy of the We Are Family
    Foundation, a non-profit organization that
    promotes "diversity, understanding, respect
    and multiculturalism," primarily among
    children. Tagging the Foundation "awesome," the band members soon elected to
    make its mission their own, declaring the collaboration "a great way for us to help."

    This month, the Creation kids put their money where their mikes are with the
    release of their debut album, World Without Windows. On behalf of their "brothers
    and sisters...around the world," the band has earmarked 100% of the proceeds
    from the sale of the CD to building a school in an undereducated community in
    Africa; and sponsoring travel by American students to foreign lands, in order to
    build a bridge between youth of different cultures.

    As uplifting as it is to read about this, it's also distressing to note how rarely a
    positive story about kids gets play these days. After all, when it comes to getting the
    scoop on the state of the nation's younger citizens, there's so much more pressing
    news to sort through:

    Paris Hilton's most recent dust-up with Nicole Richie.

    This month's drug bust of former American Idol contestant Julia DeMato.

    The insurgent popularity of the 13-year-old pop duo Prussian Blue—the Mary Kate
    and Ashley of the white supremacy set—whose racist and hateful songs (such as
    Sacrifice, a valentine to Nazi Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess) have already made them
    regular fodder for the TV magazine shows.

    Granted, it would be foolish to assume that the social do-goodism of a half-dozen
    junior high school kids could ever compete for ink with Lindsay Lohan's latest late-
    night escapade.

    And yet the more we pigeonhole today's youth as hopelessly wayward—the more
    we feed on TV and tabloid coverage of them that accentuates the negative—the
    greater we risk creating the very monsters we fear.

    Curiously, this reap-what-you-sow phenomenon lies at the foundation of parenting
    itself.

    "Kids...like to hear when they're on track, doing the right thing," writes psychologist
    and family specialist Sarah Chana Radcliffe. "What you praise is what you get.
    Unfortunately, what you criticize is also what you get, so be careful."

    So how do we, as a nation, foster a better sense of optimism about our children
    and, at the same time, enlighten the kids themselves to the better side of their
    nature? For starters, we can closely monitor what kind of messages they're
    bombarded with on a daily basis, and by this I don't mean just the old standbys—
    the sexed-up music videos that blare from the TV, or the violent video games
    booted up on the den PC. Even more menacing than these are the subtler themes
    that creep into the child's world, often hidden within the Trojan horse of mainstream
    entertainment.

    For instance, with each new episode of Survivor they soak up, aren't we teaching
    kids that duplicity and betrayal are character traits to be rewarded? For every
    gratuitous tongue-lashing they hear delivered by American Idol judge Simon
    Cowell, aren't we saying it's OK to be cruel? Doesn't The Apprentice tell them that
    cutthroat is the only way to go?

    These kinds of bad lessons often slip under our radar; and the real shame is,
    there's something we can do about it. With all the creative brain power behind the
    ever growing slate of reality shows that cram the nightly schedule, surely someone
    could come up with a competition in which the winner isn't smugly glorified and the
    loser miserably shamed. If a bureaucracy such as NASA can sponsor a $250,000
    contest—as it did in September—or the creation of a workable "moon dirt" digger
    for use in future space exploration, how hard would it be to crank out a reality show
    that offers a similarly constructive contest for kids?

    Ironically, the job of educating our children through television now falls primarily on
    the shoulders of the mercilessly criticized PBS. Isn't it time for the networks to get
    with the lesson plan, too, and perhaps offer something beyond junk food
    programming? Who knows, they might even come up with a ratings winner.

    As for me, my New Year's resolution is to begin tuning out the negativity and
    focusing on what really matters. That's why, for Christmas, Santa surprised my 6-
    year-old with Felicity, the Revolutionary War-era doll from the popular American Girl
    collection. If the product name rings a bell, that's because in the weeks leading up
    to the holiday, American Girl was all over the news, as fringe religious
    conservatives boycotted the product line's parent company for its advocacy of
    reproductive freedom.

    So I boycotted the boycott and bought the damn thing. Not only did my daughter
    really want one, but the doll's accessories also include books about U.S. history;
    and as a guy whose G.I. Joes came with nothing more than a trench helmet, a
    plastic rifle and a tiny set of hand grenades, I find the book thing pretty positive.

    As for my older daughter, I got her Creation's new CD. The tunes are catchy, but
    the message is pure music.